Last week, we reported on state investigations into alleged misconduct by Lake County law enforcement officers going back more than a decade. The Flathead Beacon has been covering the issue as well, and in the last few days it's published two stories worth highlighting.
The first, by Myers Reece, unpacks details of the August 2011 Montana Public Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) meeting in Helena that was briefly mentioned in the Indy story. Lake County Attorney Mitch Young, Polson-Ronan City Attorney James Raymond, Sheriff Jay Doyle, Undersheriff Karey Reynolds, Ronan Police Chief Dan Wadsworth and Polson Police Chief Doug Chase all attended the meeting to decry what they believe is a "smear campaign," to use Raymond's words, against Lake County law enforcement. Beginning last year, POST has opened at least a dozen ethics investigations into Lake County law enforcement officers.
[POST Director Wayne] Ternes said the sheer number of complaints lodged against Lake County law enforcement officers is unprecedented in his experience, as is the fact that every major law agency within a single geographical area is potentially implicated, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Law and Order, Polson Police Department, Ronan Police Department and Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Ray Murray, who says he is the longest-serving member on the 13-member POST council, has never seen a situation like the one in Lake County.
“I’ve been on the council since 1996 and I can’t recall another collection of complaints of the magnitude that we’ve seen in Lake County in that time period,” Murray told the Beacon last week. “I do not recall ever seeing this number of complaints restricted to a geographical area like that.”
And Beacon editor Kellyn Brown weighed in yesterday with an opinion piece focusing on Terry Leonard, a former Lake County Sheriff's deputy. As the Indy reported, Leonard claims he was fired by then-Sheriff Lucky Larson for attempting to expose misconduct within the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Leonard then created websites to disseminate details of the misconduct. Because it was election season, the websites led to a complaint that Leonard was violating election laws by campaigning anonymously. County Attorney Mitch Young obtained a warrant from District Judge C.B. McNeil and deputies raided Leonard’s home, seizing his computers, among other things. Leonard's attorney told the Indy that in his 30 years of criminal defense work, "I have never seen a search warrant for investigating a misdemeanor." Last month, the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices exonerated Leonard. Writes Brown:
On its face, it appears that Lake County officials were attempting to silence Leonard to protect themselves from incriminating information, some of which had some merit. But at the least, Leonard, who in many ways was portrayed as a loose cannon and a disgruntled former employee, deserves some vindication.